Craftsmanship

Can’t keep up? A simple guide to give feedback.


I've always considered that it's a good habit to, from time to time, give feedback to our peers. Although it seems simple, giving effective feedback, like all skills, needs learning, practice, and patience.

Feedback is praising good performance and offering corrective suggestions. Focus should be both on what the person did and how it should have been done. It's for the recipient’s and not the observer’s benefit.

Given we all are a big team, we should be aware of what happens around us; which is why there are many reasons to give feedback, for example, it could be given when:

  • A teammate did its job well.
  • The project manager is mistaken in its reasoning.
  • Someone came from a wrong way and you want to help him improve.

Take into account that the feedback could be interpersonal or technical but, before giving any, consider the following.

On giving feedback

The starting point for "the feedback giver" is to ask himself:

  1. Is my feedback true, sincere and fair?
  2. Is it helpful?
  3. Is it necessary?

Effective observers understand the objectives and truly care about the matter, so, when giving feedback, please:

  • Listen first and then evaluate the performance and not the person.
  • Be sincere, both in intention and manner of giving feedback. Very often, it is not just what you say but how you say it. Keep your tone neutral.
  • Prioritize and focus on just two or three actionable points with each feedback.
  • Make sure the corrective measures are understood.
  • And lastly, document and follow up the action items.

On receiving feedback

Receiving feedback is of value to all of us regardless how experienced we may be, and we all need to make sure we can accept and learn from constructive feedback.

When receiving feedback make sure you:

  • Understand the intention and purpose of the feedback.
  • Try not to be defensive; concentrate on how feedback will enable you to perform better.
  • Learn to listen. You don’t have to accept all feedback but keep an open mind and focus on the future. Ask questions if you want clarity.
  • Verify accuracy by getting feedback from more than one source if possible.
  • Ask for specific advice on how and what to do differently.
  • Learn to respond and not react; don’t take feedback personally.

A small guide for technical feedback

In order to deliver high quality and precise feedback, and to get the best results from it, my advice is to have a defined structure. The following is a small guideline we use when giving technical feedback:

  1. The Reason: Why are we here?

    Offer a brief explanation for the session. Make sure is specific, clear and accurate; focus on specific behavior or event.

    Remember: your feedback must be measurable and actionable.

  2. "Tell me: What happened?"

    Allow the receiver to explain what happened. Don't be an asshole by exaggerating and pointing mistakes. It's better if you try to be empathetic and try to create an environment of confidence and trust, this way, you'll have a better understanding of the situation.

  3. What went right and what went wrong

    It's a good idea to start and end the feedback with a positive note but don't try to smooth things. Be direct and clear or the receiver will think he did a good job, and he would overlook the opportunity areas.

    For this, you'll need to:

    • Review event: Walkthrough the situation and make sure everything is clear.
    • Improve the situation: Give insights on how the receiver could improve.

    In resume, separate the good practices from the incorrect ones.

  4. Closing the session

    Make sure everything is clear, and there are no hard feelings by asking the receiver about "How do you feel now?" or "Is there any doubt?".

    The best part of any feedback session is a good closing, and if everything went right, both the receiver and the giver would have learned a lot of things.

  5. Follow Up

    My advice is to always document your feedback sessions, this will help by keeping track the evolution of both, "giver" and "receiver", by taking care of the action items you've defined.

Conclusion

Giving feedback, interpersonal or technical, is not an exact science and this guide is neither bulletproof nor trying to be; it's just a technique that in my experience has worked, and I wanted to share.

When giving or receiving feedback, just remember: "Feedback is about improvement, not about criticism."

Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome:

twitter: mumoc | github: mumoc | skype: mumo.carlos

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